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Staff Picks: Books

Level Up Your Classroom

Many people understand how compelling games can be – just look at how much time people spend playing games in all their formats! What if the qualities that motivate people to come back again and again to the games they love could be utilized to maximize motivation to construct learning? Level Up Your Classroom: The Quest to Gamify Your Lessons and Engage Your Students, by Jonathan Cassie, answers these questions:
• What happens to student learning when it is gamified?
• Why would I want to gamify instruction for my students?
• How do I do this?
While game-based learning, using specific games to help kids learn, can be useful, this book is not only about that. Rather, the big idea here is to identify and learn to utilize the attributes that make games so compelling in order to facilitate learning. Cassie posits that understanding and recognizing the fundamental properties of games allow teachers to use those properties to facilitate learning.
Here is an accessible and practical book with many access points for gamifying your classroom. If you are a game fanatic but don’t know how to incorporate gamification into teaching (or parenting) this is the book for you. If you don’t identify as a gamer yet you recognize there might be some value in gameplay for your students, this book could be... yep, you guessed it, a game-changer.

A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings

Of the 100 buildings pictured and discussed in this 2015 book, only nine are in the United States, the closest to Kalamazoo being Mies van de Rohe's 1945-1951 Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois. Hence, this is quite an international volume. The chapters are Pioneers, Rhetoric (Building with a Message), Sacred, Urban Visions, Big and Beautiful, Material Matters, and Lost and Found. I wonder if the wonderful O'Connor/Houghton volume on Kalamazoo buildings gave Mr. Cruickshank the idea for this last chapter title? Excellent photography and concise commentaries are present in each entry. I particularly enjoyed the one on the Stockholm, Sweden, Public Library. There are photos of both exterior and interior, including the central reading room, of which the author says, 'The white walls reflect light down onto the desks below, making the tall cylindrical room the epitome of intellectual enlightenment.' This is truly a spectacular building, along with the other 99 included herein.

Muhammad Ali unfiltered

Filled with intimate color and black and white photos, Muhammad Ali unfiltered is a pictorial tribute to The Champ's life and legacy. My favorite pictures in the book are one of him running behind his children in a stroller on a hill and the telegram he sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was jailed in Birmingham. If you want to see more like this, check out the book, and appreciate this legend all over again.

American Nations

Could the cultural values of the different European immigrants that first immigrated to what we now call the United States still be affecting our election results? Colin Woodard thinks so. He breaks the country up into eleven regional cultures, but he sees most of political history as a conflict between Yankeedom, descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans; and the Deep South, immigrants from the British colony Barbados that landed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1670. In American Nations, Woodard tells the history of the arrival and expansion of these different groups and how they have aligned and broken apart through the next four centuries.

The most fascinating part for me was the Revolutionary War section which showed that the colonies were in no way united about whether or why to start a revolution.

The Princess and the Warrior, A Tale of Two Volcanoes

There have only been a few occasions where I have discovered an author that I would eventually become obsessed with.  Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tee-YOU) is one of those authors.  I was so excited to read his latest children’s book, The Princess and the Warrior, A Tale of Two Volcanoes. In it, he retells the legend of the two great volcanoes overlooking Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.  Once again Tonatiuh's artistic style successfully represents the legends, the people, the history, and the culture of Mexico.  

Tonatiuh is Mexican American and he grew up in both countries.  He has received well-deserved recognitions and awards for his works including the Pura Belpre’ Medal and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award. Now more than ever, it is important to continue to highlight diverse children’s books that promote pride, acceptance, and appreciation for all cultures. This book does all this and more.


The Urban Monk

As a natural skeptic, I usually don’t put much stock into any book that touts itself as “life changing” or offers “easy steps to health and happiness”. So when I picked up Pedram Shojai’s The Urban Monk, I was expecting to quickly skim a few chapters followed by a healthy dose of eye-rolling. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find much more pragmatic advice, and a unique mix of ancient wisdom and modern science, than the expected empty health claims and Pollyannaish platitudes. I do understand that a deep dive, or even a toe dip, into eastern medicine and philosophy won’t be for everyone. But there isn’t a person I know that wouldn’t benefit from having a better handle on their stress levels, couldn’t use a little more joy and balance in their lives, or simply not feeling totally overwhelmed by the modern world, and the tips offered in The Urban Monk certainly won’t hurt in the pursuit of that better life.

Best Book on Racism I've Ever Read

There is nothing I can say to do this book justice. Let's start here: certain books change our life, our perspective, our understanding, and bring us to a new level as moral human beings. This is one of those books (The Invisible Man and Between the World and Me come to mind as well). But this was the best book I've ever read on racism in America, bar none. I enjoyed Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, and this is similar, but Stamped is much better in terms of scope and writing style, ambition and courage.

Do not be fooled or scared by the length of the book. I devoured every single page and, wanting more, began reading it again. It reads fast, like a short book with huge ambition - it chronicles the entire history of racist ideas in America, and it does so brilliantly to a popular audience. From sipping English tea and trading slaves to the Americas, to Barak Obama as president, all ideas about race are analyzed and put into their historical context (to name one: "law and order")

Some main ideas to chew on. First, ideas about race come in three flavors (a) antiracist ideas, which means roughly "there's nothing wrong with Black people." hint: that's the correct position. (b) segregationist ideas, "there's something inherently wrong with Black people", and (c) assimilationist ideas, "there's something wrong with Black people, but we can fix it, and they probably need to be more White." The book is a case study in how wrong, insidious, and powerful assimilationist ideas are throughout our history. Second, Black folks can be racist towards black people. Ideas don't discriminate and we are all swimming in the same pool. Indeed, the author begins the book by saying he had several racist ideas that he had to shed during the writing of the book. He drank some of the kool-aid, without even knowing it. A big part of the book is boldly calling out these ideas. He is not soft on historical figures. History has always had antiracist ideas and racist ideas. Third, most of the solutions we have tried have not worked, sadly. Pointing at successful Black people and saying "see! look!" hasn't worked (and has the opposite affect). And educating White people hasn't worked either. Kendi believes nothing less than a massive, grassroots movement (e.g. Black Power, Black Lives Matter) which forces powerful people to end discrimination will work. And having truly antiracist people in power is the only long-term solution. End discrimination, he says, and you end racism and racist ideas about Black people.






The story of the first student-run high school!

 A school of their own is the story of how author, Samuel Levin, as a high school junior created a student-run high school after achieving international fame for his student-run farm-to-school lunch program. “The Independent Project” an alternative school that is part of the Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts, allows teens to decide their own curriculum, with no parents, teachers or adults intervening. The program has been wildly successful since its inception in 2010, partially because it accommodates different kinds of learners, and has allowed kids to graduate from high school that might not have otherwise.

 Samuel’s mother, renowned psychologist, educator, and author Susan Engel co-authors the book.

X Child Stars : Where Are They Now?

Here's another 2016 book that, for me anyway, turned out to be addictive. I know, I know -- I could have Googled all these stars' names and found good information about them, but then I would first have had to know what names to look up. Kathy Garver, child actress on Family Affair in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has written this book that categorizes child actors by the programs in which they starred and includes biographies that bring each actor's story up to the current date. Covered are shows from the 1950s, beginning with I Love Lucy and ending with the 1980s and Family Matters. It's nice that each chapter begins with a summary of the show, telling how many seasons the show aired, on what network and when, and giving other historical details. Anyone who saw TV during the years covered will find much to like about this volume.

Make Awesome Beer at Home

I’ve been making beer at home for a few years now. Beers, just like food, can only be as good as the recipes they come from. One of the problems with homebrewing is that the internet is a repository for terrible beer recipes, turns out. Therefore, it becomes important to either experiment on your own (which could end in disaster), or find recipes that you trust. I recommend starting with the latter to get a basic understanding of various styles.

Who to trust? Enter this book. Gordon Strong is an excellent award winning brewer. His recipes are top notch, and he explains them. I almost feel like I’m cheating. I wouldn't use this book to learn about the process of homebrewing, especially if you're a beginning. Strong's process is quite complicated and daunting.